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Showing posts from October, 2015

Learn PHP Without Going Mad

(c) Ian Baker (2012)

PHP, the language which runs 80% of the known internet, is renowned for its fundamentally poor design. The language began as a few little functions letting non-programmers manage rudimentary web forms. But it has expanded into the 7th most popular language there is, a veryfast, mature object-oriented thing which tries hard to manage its primary burden: itself. (Much of the horror has been patched over since PHP5, I am told by grizzled veterans.) The lead dev at my work, who's spent 10 years with it, admits that it "keeps you on your toes". (However, one would prefer that one's tools were transparent, an extension of the arm.)

Neal Stephenson notes that source code comments (the backstage cribs of your software) read like the terse mutterings of pilots wrestling with the controls of damaged airplanes. The general feel is of a thousand monumental but obscure struggles seen in the stop-action light of a strobe. This struggle is the spirit of the P…

the problem with other minds

I don't know what you're thinking, of course. Some people make much of this; all our thousands of languages are supposed to be bridges, however rickety and thin; half of all real and imagined tragedies turn on miscommunication; a large branch of world philosophy obsesses over the Angst of Being and the distant Other, incomprehensible, deep and sad.

The harsh light of Sturgeon's law is a great comfort here, since it implies we aren't missing much. 'It's no tragedy I am deaf by default if the world comprises mostly noise. Essential solitude is just a grander version of not having Twitter.'

But also that, were humanity better than it is - more thoughtful, more caring, more original, funnier - the situation would be more tragic. Because the feeling I have of missing out on you all would be, well, justified.







"90% of everything is crap"

parabola not slide

What? Seest thou not how that the yeare as representing playne
The age of man, departes itself in quarters fowre? First bayne
And tender in the spring it is, even like a sucking babe.
...Then followeth Harvest when the heate of youth growes sumwhat cold,
Rype, meeld, disposed meane betwixt a yoongman and an old,
And sumwhat sprent with grayish heare. Then ugly winter last
Like age steales on with trembling steppes, all bald, or overcast
With shirle thinne heare as whyght as snowe. Our bodies also ay
Doo alter still from tyme to tyme, and never stand at stay.
Wee shall not bee the same wee were today or yisterday.
- Ovid

Winter is first. This is calendar view
not the popular petty grandiosity of life as year.
Sulk hard; see life Spring downward. The Gregorian
or astronomical fact is an unpolished scientistic compartment.
No one will have you heed it.

But childhood is a winter.
A moral desert, intellectual negligibility,
contagious illiberty, ruin of stores.
Our minds do…

Highlighted passages from The Book of Disquiet

My soul is a hidden orchestra; I know not what instruments, what fiddlestrings and harps, drums and tamboura I sound and clash inside myself. All I hear is the symphony.



Since we can't extract beauty from life, let's at least try to extract beauty from not being able to extract beauty from life.



I often wonder what kind of person I would be if I had been protected from the cold wind of fate by the screen of wealth... to reach the tawdry heights of being a good assistant book-keeper in a job that is about as demanding as an afternoon nap and offers a salary that gives me just enough to live on.

I know that, had that non-existent past existed, I would not now be capable of writing these pages, which, though few, I would have undoubtedly have only day-dreamed about given more comfortable circumstances. For banality is a form of intelligence, and reality, especially if it is brutish and rough, forms a natural complement to the soul. Much of what I feel and think I owe to my work as…

Very Late Review: Market Forces (2004) by Richard Morgan

So totally a book of its time: of cinematic Adbustersish rage and paranoia. By 2086, military aid has been fully privatised, making a free market out of unilateral political force:

All over the world, men and women still find causes worth killing and dying for. And who are we to argue with them? Have we lived in their circumstances? Have we felt what they feel? No. It is not our place to say if they are right or wrong. At Shorn Conflict Investments, we are concerned with only two things. Will they win? And will it pay?
Morgan’s ultra-capitalism is internally coherent, but weighed down by Chomskyan exaggeration and a clumsy Mad Max road-rage system in which people drive FAST and MEAN to get corporate promotion. (Oh shit, metaphor.) Like many a bright-eyed anti-globaliser, Morgan tends to overdo it; at one point, a senior partner at Shorn erupts into a caricature of an inhuman plutocrat. I’ve added numbering to his rant because it is such a dense cluster of Morgan's (and the anti-glo…

Pair Review: Rao vs Morozov

Breaking Smart, 'Season' 1 (2015) by Venkatesh Rao.

A grandiose and low-res narrative covering all of history from the perspective of technology (or, rather, the perspective of the tech industry (or, rather, of the solutionists)) in 30,000 words. Rao is one of the big in-house theorists for Silicon Valley*, and this is reflected in his contagious enthusiasm for just how much is becoming possible so quickly, the degree to which this time actually is different ("Software is eating the world"). Second half of this season attempts to generalise software engineering ideas - Agile, forking, sprints and all that - to all human endeavour (...) As a simple example, a 14-year-old teenager today (too young to show up in labor statistics) can learn programming, contribute significantly to open-source projects, and become a talented professional-grade programmer before age 18. This is breaking smart: an economic actor using early mastery of emerging technological leverage — in…

Been Reading, Q3 2015

(c) Grace Witherell (2015)


humans have thrived by turning every need — every vulnerability — into something high in its own right. Shelter becomes architecture. Reproduction gets wrapped in romance and love… think of all the cultural significance and artistry and labor that goes into [eating]. I wanted to bring that same creative power and meaning-making to death…

of BJ Miller


Our fundamental tactic of self-protection, self-control, and self-definition is not building dams or spinning webs, but telling stories – more particularly concocting the story we tell others, and ourselves, about who we are... we do not consciously and deliberately figure out what narratives to tell and how to tell them; like spiderwebs, our tales are spun but for the most part we don’t spin them...

– Daniel Dennett

Unintentional quarterly theme is technology as the future of control and of freedom. So a lot of political sci-fi; nice brain-cooling fun while I hammered out a machine learning thesis way too late…